“What is truly important in life?”
by Adriaan Pietersz
- For his latest feature, the director of Cloud 9 and Summer in Berlin had to deal with film crews in front and behind the camera
Cineuropa: What are the origins of Whisky with Vodka [+see also:
interview: Andreas Dresen
Andreas Dresen: Wolfgang Kohlhaase, the screenwriter, told me the story during a train ride from Lünen to Berlin and asked me whether I would be interested in reading it. I did and discovered a lot of human truth in it. When do people give in, how do they get themselves into dissatisfying situations?
The script takes a bizarre incident in the 1950s and makes it the starting point of a story about opportunism and life’s lies and deceits. It meets my own experience and I found myself asking: What is truly important in life? What values do I stand for? These are decisive questions that the characters in the film are also forced to ask themselves.
Not a single character in this story is truly happy…
They are all seeking – probably like the rest of us. I think that the fear of being alone is a fundamental issue in our lives. Basically, Wolfgang Kohlhaase, with this script, tells a deeply sad story about missed opportunities, but he does it with such wonderful humour. This is his great talent.
The dialogue seems to be the key to the tone of the film. How do you direct scenes that depend so much on dialogue?
This dialogue is written in such a precise and unsentimental manner that it demands an enormous precision in speed. If you shift the rhythm by a single nuance, you lose the bite or the comedy. Kohlhaase’s characters never actually say what they mean or think. They’ve all built an invisible protective shield around their hearts. People are always cautious when it comes to showing their feelings and emotions. The screenplay doesn’t try to emulate everyday language but rather writes offers an artistic language that creates reality on a very high level and in the end is much closer to life.
This is the second screenplay of his that you’ve filmed…
Already in Summer in Berlin [+see also:
film profile], which Kohlhaase also wrote, I realized that as a director you shouldn’t attempt to reduce words and lines to something common and trivial. If you take them exactly the way they are written, then the effect you get is extremely honest and real.
Like Summer in Berlin, this is also a bitter story that disguises itself as something else. We wanted the viewer to get a sense very early on that this film is not some farce on filmmaking, and so we built in breaks from the start in the form of close-ups that capture moments of loneliness or longing. At the end, when Otto and Bettina drive off to the country inn, it should be clear that this film is an exploration of some basic existential questions.
How was it to film a film crew that was filming a movie?
The film-within-the-film story that led to showing the same actors playing different characters and styles was the biggest challenge of this film. Corinna Harfouch has a scene in which she first kisses her screen partner, and then we see her in a private moment as Bettina and then she finally kisses her second screen partner and then her husband – all that with totally different attitudes. I also had to get used to having so many people moving around both in front and behind the camera. To think about this was quite unnatural for me; I’m more of a chamber play kind of guy.